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Vital language assistance

British Council Scotland's campaign to highlight the 80 per cent fall in numbers of foreign language assistants (FLAs) in our schools has received considerable support from educators.

Organisations including School Leaders Scotland, Universities Scotland and the Scottish Council of Independent Schools have stressed the important role FLAs play, as native speakers, in enthusing and inspiring young people to take their language learning to the highest levels.

This week, our campaign received further backing from Scotland's most senior foreign diplomats. The consuls general of France, Germany, Spain, Italy and China expressed their concern at the sharp fall, from 284 in 2005-6 to just 59 now.

The Scottish Government is ambitious for language learning in Scotland and is exploring how a "1+2" model - whereby students learn two additional languages - can be delivered.

So I was heartened by comments from Alasdair Allan, Minister for Learning and Skills, that he is to convene an "urgent" meeting with the consuls and Cosla (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) to discuss the issue of FLAs.

We also think it's crucial that schools speak up for FLAs, because we know that many schools that receive assistants have fantastic experiences.

Not only are FLAs linguistically invaluable, but they also bring a cultural perspective to the schools they choose to work in that extends far beyond the language classroom.

This is an important part of creating a more multilingual, culturally- aware Scotland, one where the next generation of entrepreneurial Scots can play their full part on the international stage. Lack of language ability is often cited by young people as a barrier to working or studying abroad. We have to change that.

Ultimately, it's up to Scotland's local authorities to decide whether to take FLAs or not. We think that for an annual cost of pound;7,911 (down from pound;9,000), which can be shared across up to three schools, they represent excellent value for money. But the inspiration and enthusiasm they bring with them really is priceless.

Even in a climate of austerity, FLAs represent a good investment in Scotland's young people and our country's future.

Lloyd Anderson, Director, British Council Scotland, Edinburgh.

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